History Of The Jersey Cape

 

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Prerecorded History

The Europeans Are Coming, The Europeans Are Coming

The Lost Years

The Whalers


Prerecorded History

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Approximately 12,000-to 15,000-years ago there was no Delaware Bay; it was the Delaware River, which had not yet carved out its eastern shore to form the Jersey Cape. On the ocean side, the Atlantic shore was almost 80 miles east of where it is now. The above is documented by archeology.

What follows has not been documented. It is a theory that I have based on speculation. The Lenape Nation was not the first humans to inhabit South Jersey. I believe they crossed the frozen Bering Strait 10,000-to 12,000-years ago. Gradually they followed the rising sun east. I place them on the banks of the Mississippi about 4,000 years ago.

They continued their eastward trek settling in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey about 2,000 years later. The Lenape conquered the indigenous people whom I suspect was the Cherokee Nation, which moved south to the Carolinas.

The Lenape was divided into three groups: the Wolf, Turtle, and Turkey clans that was determined at birth from the maternal side. The Wolf Clan claimed the land in North Jersey and southern New York. The Turtle Clan controlled Central Jersey between the Raritan and Mullica rivers and eastern Pennsylvania. The Turkey Clan had all of South Jersey below the Mullica River and northeast Delaware.

Each clan was further subdivided into tribes, two of which inhabited the Jersey Cape: the Tuckahoe and the Kechemeche. Most of the land was controlled by the Kechemeche in the southern portion of the Cape, while the Tuckahoe had villages in the northern half of the county.

The Lenape were the first tourists to the Jersey Cape. Each summer different tribes from the north would summer on the Cape for clamming, fishing and the cooler climate. Since the natives could not make an 80-mile day trip, there were no shoebies. Neither were there Friday and Sunday traffic jams on Route 47 or the Parkway.

The Kechemeche women farmed, growing beans, squash and corn, while the men hunted and fished. Today the most popular hunting technique in South Jersey is driving deer to silent standers. The Kechemeche had perfected that method long before the Europeans arrived. Only they were smarter. They didn't waste manpower on drivers. They used fire. They torched the pine and oak forest and waited down wind for the deer to pass by.

Not only did this permit more standers, the smoke from the fire masked one of the white-tail deer's most valuable defensive assets: scent. This method had another thing going for it.  In the spring the women farmed the burned-over forest where the sun could reach the emerging plants.

Their lifestyle must have sustained them well. Reports from the first Europeans indicate that they were lean, well-formed and healthy. The Kechemeche thrived off the land, bay, ocean and sounds. Although the settlers believed they had paid the natives a fair price for the land, they did not understand the Native Americans' values. To the Lenape, no one could own land, anymore than they could own the water or the sky. What they believed they had sold was the right to use the land. By 1735 most the Ketchemeche had left the Cape.

If the early settlers had the foresight to provided the Lenape with a reservation, think of the impact that might have had on the Cape. Even U. S. Sen. Robert (The Torch) Torricelli, D-North Jersey, and The Donald wouldn't be able to prevent a casino on the Jersey Cape.

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The First Europeans

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In August 28, 1609 Henry Hudson, aboard the yacht Half Moon, was the first recorded European to see the Jersey Cape. Sailing for the Dutch East India Company, he was searching for a northwest passage to the Orient. He explored several miles of shoreline along the Delaware Bay before his 122-ton vessel struck bottom. They anchored for the night.

In the morning a northwest gale forced him to turn back, round the Cape and continue north along the coast of South Jersey. There is no record that he or his crew ever set foot ashore during their brief excursion.

Shortly after Hudson explored the Cape, English navigator Samuel Argall entered the bay. Assuming it was the northern boundary of the Virginia Patent, he named the bay after that colony's governor, Lord De La Warre. But it was the Dutch that first exploited the bay.

Cornelius Jacobsen Mey, after whom the Cape May peninsula is named, explored the area between 1616 and 1624. Captain Mey and other Dutch navigators were exploring the area for trading potential for Dutch merchants. For the next 40 years the Dutch would dominate the Delaware Valley. They built a fort at Swanendael on Lewis Creek across the bay from the Jersey Cape.

The Dutch, however, were not interested in farming. Their focus was on the trading potential of fur trapping, fishing, trade and bartering. It was their lack of permanent settlements, however, that forced them to cede control to the Swedes and the English.

Before that was to happen, however, Samuel Godyn, for the Dutch West India Company, built a whaling factory at Swanendael that functioned between 1630 and 1631. They planned a whaling factory on the Jersey side of South (Delaware) Bay and bought land from the natives. In 1631 Peter Minuit, director-general of New Netherlands confirmed the first recorded patent for European ownership of Jersey Cape Property. The factory never happened.

The period between 1631 and the arrival of offshore whalers from Long Island in the 1680s is almost a blank page. There is myth and folklore, but little solid evidence. By 1685, however, the English had settled permanently on the Cape.

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The Lost Years

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There is a theory that the English began settling Portsmouth on the Cape in the 1640s. This is based upon a scheme that New Haven voted to approved a plan to settle and farm in the Dutch-controlled Delaware Valley. Fifty settlers went to Varens Kill (Salem Creek), 70-miles north of the Cape. Although they planted tobacco, most returned to New Haven, probably because of New Jersey's high cigarette tax. Subsequent attempts in the 1650s were thwarted by New Netherlands governor Peter Stuyvesant.

So, where's the Cape May connection? Folklore has it that some of the New Haven settlers at Varens Kill hadn't returned to Connecticut, but relocated on the undeveloped Jersey Cape in which the Dutch seemed to have lost interest. The earliest recorded Cape May names in the 1680s and 1690s are identical to those of the families that appeared in the New Haven town records in the 1640s: Osborne, Mason, Badcock and Godfrey among others. These are also among the same families that were involved in the aborted Varen Kill settlement.

Despite the lack of records on the Cape during that period, the above concept is not unrealistic. This is further supported by the early whaling expeditions from the Hamptons in Long Island. Offshore whalers would arrive in December and stay until the migrating right whales left the bay in February. It was the South and East Hampton offshore whalers who made mass relocations to the Cape in the 1680s and 1690s. I suppose they could no longer afford the Hamptons—that's where the money meets the Atlantic.

Further, there were strong ties between New Haven and Long Island.  Long Island, it should be remembered, was part of Connecticut then, not Dutch-controlled New Netherlands (New York). The same family names that can be found in New Haven can also be found in the Hamptons. Could the transient whalers have had family members already settled on the Cape in the 1640s? There is no proof, but the speculation level runs high.

It should be noted that offshore whaling in the 1640s is not what first comes to mind at the mention of whaling. Whaling, as we have come to picture it, consists of three- to five-year voyages aboard large whaling ships that pursued the right and sperm whales in all the oceans. Offshore whaling, as the name suggests, is done from 20-foot whale boats launched from the beach.

When a whale was spotted in the bay, the boats would be launched and the sails raised. When the crew neared the whale, the sail was lowered and a crew of eight rowed close to the whale. Offshore whaling now becomes similar to blue-water whaling. The captain harpooned the whale and the whale boat was towed by the whale until it tired. The crew would move the boat close to the whale, and the captain would drive a lance into the whale, trying to strike a vital organ. The angered whale would make another run until it tired again, spouted blood—pillars of fire—and died. The whale would be towed back to the beach where the blubber and baleen were processed.

The primary whale Long Islanders sought was the right whale, so named because it floated after it died. Tragically, partly because of offshore whaling, but mostly from blue-water whaling the right whale is now among the most endangered of the cetaceans. There aren't many left, particularly in the Atlantic.

Another distinction between blue-water whaling and offshore whaling is that blue-water whalers were exclusively whalers. Offshore whalers, when there were no local whales, held two other jobs: farming and whatever craft or skill they had. Offshore whalers couldn't quit their day job. This concludes the background on the Long Islanders that may have settled Portsmouth on the Jersey Cape between the 1640s through the 1690s.

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The Whalers

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The Long Island whalers who settled New England Town, formerly Portsmouth, in the 1680s had completed a three-leg odyssey. It began in England. From there they sailed to New England, moved to Long Island and finally relocated on the Jersey Cape in West Jersey. They settled north of New England Creek where they moored their boats.

One factor that greatly influenced settling the Cape was the restoration of Charles II to the throne. Chuck #2 promoted colonialization and expansionism including seizure of New Netherlands from the Dutch. He gave his brother James, Duke of York a patent to the former Dutch territories between the Hudson and Delaware rivers. Duke Jimmy rewarded his allies James Carteret and John Berkley with a patent for land that included the Cape.

Carteret name the province New Jersey after the Isle of Jersey where he had provided refuge for the exiled Stuarts during the English civil war. New Jersey was divided into East Jersey and West Jersey. The line separating the two ran northwest from about Tuckerton to Sussex County. The primary focus was encouraging relocation of the English population from New England and Long Island.

Disputes and tension developed among the different settlers in East Jersey resulting in a subsequent relocation to the Cape. East Jersey families involved in offshore whaling were among the first recorded settlers to move to the Cape in West Jersey. These families include Hewitt, Leonard, Edwards, Davis, Spicer, Leaming, Townsend, Whitlock, Richardson, Crawford, Dennis, Stillwell and Taylor. The same families can be traced earlier to the Hamptons. Some of their descendants are still living on the Cape.

Not satisfied with the profits in West Jersey, Carteret and Berkley sold their rights to two Quakers, John Fenwick and Edward Byllynge. Fenwick and Byllynge had a falling out, possibly  because Fenwick couldn't pronounce Byllynge. Fenwick almost lost his financial interest. William Penn and other Quakers intervened to protect Fenwick's interests and promote new enterprises in West Jersey and provide religious refuges.

William Penn contributed to "The Laws, Concessions and Agreements of 1677". This document provided West Jersey with one of the most liberal constitutions in the British Empire. It guaranteed religious freedom, trial by jury, elected government and rights and privileges for freeholders. A freeholder is one who held office or landed estate free from any limitations as to inheritance rights or social class.

In 1681 Burlington, 100-miles north of the Cape, became the administrative and judicial center for West Jersey. A court, dominated by Quakers, passed local laws, dispensed justice, and provided moral and economic guidance. Burlington court records document that there was a community and government on the Cape between 1685 and 1688.

In 1687 Dr. Daniel Coxe acquired 22 shares in West Jersey. He offered freeholders a lease of 100 acres with the option in three years to buy the tract in fee simple acquiring absolute ownership of the land.

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New England Town

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I don't think there is a precise date when Portsmouth became New England Town, although it was probably in the 1680s. We will be adding more information in the future. In the meantime, we decided to have some fun on our Sausage Making page and posted a paradoxical recipe for 'possum haggis and 'possum huntin' at New England Town. The real sausage recipes may be worth the visit if you are disappointed in what is now available at your local markets.  .

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